Education Systems and Social Justice in DC

15 Apr

 By Emily Lopynski

“The reality in Washington D.C. is if you live in Tenleytown versus if you live in Anacostia, you get two wildly different educational experiences. It’s the biggest social injustice imaginable. What we are allowing to happen in this day and age, we are still allowing the color of a child’s skin and the Zip code they live in to dictate their educational outcome, and therefore their life outcome. … We are robbing them every single day of their futures. And everybody in this country should be infuriated by that.”  — Michelle Rhee in a speech at a D.C. restaurant, May 2008

          Social justice is something that counters the forces of power inequality, privilege, and oppression that have negative effects on individuals and communities. The ideas of power, privilege, and equality are very relevant to my trip to DC.

Power: someone’s relative status in society (often political, can be social). The more power you have the more likely you can use your actions to achieve desired outcomes.   

            With this definition of power in mind, we can say Washington DC is considered one of the most powerful cities in the world. The Supreme Court, the World Bank, Congress, the White House, the IMF building all represent the power of the city. There are lawyers, congressman, businessman, and politicians who all possess a share of the power of DC They belong to the elite and powerful class of American society. There is another group of people in DC: District residents, 30,500 of which are children that live below the poverty threshold as defined by the Census Bureau (Power and Policy). These residents, and many others who are struggling to make ends meet, do not experience the benefits of power from the city they live in. In truth, they experience the negative effects of it. The ideas of power and lack thereof directly affected my host community. But what was encouraging to me was that the teachers I interacted with did not tell the children that they are not in a position to inherit power. In my pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms, I could see how the teachers empowered the children though encouragement. New skills and knowledge were a source of empowerment for the students. The teachers at the KIPP school would also read stories about successful African-American inventors, athletes, and other famous African-Americans. It seems that the school intentionally used African-American role models and leaders in a school of a 100% African-American student body to empower the students. The KIPP model also stressed the importance of being a leader and making the right choices. The KIPP school curriculum incorporated a strategy called Tool of the Mind that encouraged self-development and personal responsibility. Both schools were empowering their students any way they could.

Oppression: unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power. Oppression keeps an individual or group of people form accessing basic necessities, public goods, or achieving their full potential.

          As I move forward, the faces of the children that I spent time with give meaning to the injustice of oppression, power inequality, and privilege disparity. I hope to find the niche where I can make the most impact on the children who face such oppression and inequality on a daily basis.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people” –Martin Luther King Jr.

          In the Fall I was in the Sharpe Seminar “The Opportunity Gap in U.S. Schools”. My Branch Out experience supported what I learned about the U.S. education system and education inequality. This trip allowed me to see what I learned about KIPP schools in action. I was able to compare DC public schools with a DC charter schools. The Branch Out trip also reminded me how unjust the education system is and that the opportunity gap needs to be dealt with. I am now considering majors related education policy and inequality.

          I plan to stay connected to this social issue for a long time. I have recently joined the Students for Education Reform chapter at William and Mary. I hope to be involved with this issue in some capacity beyond college. This might be through afterschool program volunteering, working at a non-profit, or being involved in education policy. My Branch Out trip has confirmed my understanding of the issues in the education system. What I learned on my trip has encouraged me to find a way to serve the children who suffer from the effects of poverty.


“Poverty and Policy”

Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary


Comparing Education Systems in DC

15 Apr

By Chantelle Tait

            This trip was eye-opening, exhilarating, and heartbreaking, all at the same time. My group of 11 stayed in a hostel in North West DC and drove another neighborhood in another part of DC every morning. The neighborhood we were in is one of the most dangerous in America, and driving through it was a sobering experience for me.

            During the first few days of the week we worked in a KIPP-style charter preschool. I worked in two classrooms: one kindergarten classroom and a prekindergarten classroom. The time I spent in both classrooms was radically different from what my elementary school days were like. Every room had a teacher to lead the class and an aide to help the teacher. All teachers shared a very specific vocabulary such as “catch a bubble” for “be quiet,” “friend” for “classmate/kid/sweetie,” “spoons in our bowls” for “hands in our laps,” “capiche” for “okay,” among others. The teachers told us that this was to foster a sense of continuity for the kids as they went through the grades. However, classes in this school were highly regimented and kids were much disciplined. Kids could be “off the team” (their names were taken off a certain display) for bad behavior and any slight disrespect or failure to obey the teacher was dealt with briskly. Teachers’ days started at 7:30am and ended at 4:30pm, which made these variables tough to deal with for such a long time.

            As you can imagine, this routine was quite new to everyone in our group. At first we questioned the developmental appropriateness of these techniques (after all, aren’t 3 to 5 year-olds too young to adhere to such a regimented system?).  However, I personally came to the conclusion that for many of these kids the extreme discipline was necessary.

            This structured system was contrasted sharply by what we found in the other school we visited: a public STEM-style school that no longer has funds for its STEM programming. Each room had two teachers, but their roles were more clearly differentiated than those in the KIPP school. In KIPP, the point had been to have both teachers be able to carry half the weight by the end of the year. By comparison, the teacher carried most of the weight in the STEM school, and in some classrooms it seemed like the aide did anything at all. In my classroom, which was a mixed preschool and prekindergarten class, the aide was not very helpful. It was frustrating to watch. The atmosphere at the second school was much less regimented. Students were still reprimanded for doing something that was blatantly wrong, but days were shorter and the rules seemed more flexible. Some teachers incorporated vocabulary such as the one we heard in the KIPP school, but it wasn’t used as universally between them. This setting seemed more relaxed and more refreshing after the KIPP school’s strict structure. But, our group wondered if this system set up these kids to fail later on, even though it seemed more appropriate.

Nevertheless, both education systems implemented in each of the schools did have similarities. Both schools tried to teach the children through play and activities. The STEM school incorporated a Tools of the Mind curriculum, which revolved around imaginative play and learning situations by recreating them. The KIPP school involved centers where children performed different activities, like writing letters or playing with Play-Doh. In this way, both systems took advantage of children’s inquisitive natures. Both schools also required students to take standardized tests starting in kindergarten. I couldn’t believe that they start that young now!

            Overall, this trip was a fantastic experience. I was able to see things in action that I had previously only read about in my Sharpe freshman seminar. I was able to gain new perspectives and ideas on education reform. I made some great friends and had a blast navigating DC with fellow college students! This trip was a highlight of my freshman year.

Spinach and Social Justice: BON in Lynchburg

11 Apr

By C. Michael Steiner

I am writing from a place deep down inside of me where I once harbored doubts and worries about whether the countless projects, pledges, and causes I’ve supported would ever amount to any real change in this world. I tried to be an optimist, but I often became fatigued with the ailments of society. I settled my lack of ease by pretending that someone somewhere would sweat and shout on my behalf because I was too busy to be an active component of change in this world. But, I finally had these doubts put to rest after witnessing what can happen when inspiration is backed up by dedication in a small, post-industrial town in Virginia. Befitting such wonderful analogy, the urban farm we worked with in Lynchburg has blossomed from a tiny operation in a few dilapidated greenhouses to a fully functional non-profit that supplies fresh food to many neighbors, a local school, and a food bank. The organization has become a community center, which connects students and retirees, volunteers and staff, people with a wide range of incomes and disabilities, all the while working to alter how we think about food and sustainable agriculture.

What We Did:

The organization depends almost exclusively on the efforts of volunteers to maintain their operation. The William and Mary team provided much needed physical labor to update, expand, and maintain the farm operation. We dug ditches, hauled gravel, planted spinach, and weeded alongside some wonderful local volunteers. We learned about the problems present in our food systems, such as hunger and food insecurity while also exploring the logistics of running a small farm. I was able to inquire about the financial sustainability of the operations and learned that the farm was slowly becoming less dependent upon federal grants. However this would fuel future questions about the economic sustainability and costs associated with starting these types of community building farm operations.

Why We Did It:

Food systems in the United States don’t work. Our industrialized agricultural system causes extreme environmental damage.  People with lower-incomes can’t afford to eat, allowing wealth to define hunger and geographic access to the food supply. This creates what is called a food desert in low income areas. Further, communities are falling apart because of a disconnect that grows larger between produce on the farm and the dining table. Many families lack the knowledge necessary to prepare fresh foods and thus our health continues to decline.

Picture This:

There is a convenience store on a street corner in an isolated neighborhood that serves as the main source of food for its residents. The closest grocery store is an hour’s bus ride away. There is almost no fresh produce and most food is heavily processed with enormously high levels of sugar, sodium, and fat. The people who rely on this convenience store work long hours in low-end jobs in far-away neighborhood for a wage that falls below the standard, requiring a long, expensive commute. When these individuals get back home they barely have time to accomplish basic household tasks, before sleeping for less than eight hours and waking up to do it again. Time would be even more pressed with the added responsibility of preparing fresh produce for dinner. This is an example of a food desert. We commonly think of “hunger” as a physical state of being, but hunger incorporates food security as a term with regard to poverty, malnutrition, and access to quality calories. American food systems and the process of feeding its communities are closely tied to issues of fair wages, city planning, environmental degradation, and the American industrial complex. Much of the food available in grocery stores come from large, industrialized farms. These farms themselves cause massive environmental degradation. When the produce needs to find its way to a dinner plate, it must be trucked hundreds of miles, contributing to environmental degradation. We hope that there will be more small community-building farms that can work to complement the supply of the industrial complex while cutting down on pollution, pesticides, and CO2 emissions.

Bonding and Meditation:

When shoveling gravel we would play “the question game”: whoever was managing the wheelbarrow between stations would answer simple questions of preference, dreams, wants, etc., and convey the answers to the other team. We learned more about each other than I can fit in a blog post. Through these questions we gained the opportunity to delve deeper into each other’s stories and get a glimpse of the life that each team member led beyond this experience. We also played this game with the farm staff and volunteers from a local college. One of the founders of the farm was so eager to engage in conversation that he enthusiastically explained the medical condition he lives and works in daily. We received so much training before coming to the farm about how to engage in conversation with people who have disabilities, but once I came to the farm I realized how simple it really is. Everyone wants to be treated equally. After meeting people in the farm who have a disability and spending time with them, I came to dislike the term “disability,” because any given individual from the farm would be able to dig a trench faster and better than me, while our resident TV expert could easily beat me in TV Trivia. But, because disabilities are physically manifested, we assume that these individuals lack the ability to contribute to their communities, which is just not true. Our daily reflection periods allowed us to carefully consider the lessons learned during the day.

Lessons Learned:

1. The Importance of Maintaining Long-Term Vision to Accomplish Short-Term Goals

I signed up for manual labor, and boy did this trip come through in supplying it. The largest group project that spanned the week was the trench for the new strawberry greenhouse. This trench, dug with shared sweat, would become the physical and symbolic manifestation of our labors and serve as a vital component in the farm’s irrigation system. The knowledge that our work would translate into an important part in the long-term story of the farm allowed us to have a sense of purpose and pride in the hours spent with a pick ax.

2. The Power of Privilege

Most people who buy produce from local, organic venues are upper middle class folks who have the time and money to spend. This is a problem that the farm is actively addressing. They have purchased a van that they intend to outfit with refrigeration in order to bring fresh, healthy produce into the food deserts of Lynchburg. It is so important that we work to combat the stereotypes that tag along with ethical food practices. Ethical food does not have to be an elitist luxury. It can be the lifeblood of communities around the country.

Going Forward, Continuing the Mission

I contacted my high school environmental science teacher to tell her about our trip and I’m hoping that one day my high school will sponsor a service group of their own. This trip really allowed me the chance to understand how food issues can be addressed in holistic ways to approach larger problems. I am very interested in post-conflict development in the Middle East and Africa. I would love to combine post-conflict development with community building, city planning, and food security in holistic state-building projects such as Iraq and Palestine. Is the economic sustainability of community-supported agriculture a fair-weather phenomenon? With a huge leg up in lowered labor and transport costs, why do small farm operations have a hard time competing? How can small farms serve as community building apparatuses in post-conflict regions? I have a lot to think about, now.

BON: Volunteering in DC

11 Apr

By Yimeng Zhang

Day 1: 3/4/2013

Lesson One: “You don’t let the knife control you, you control the knife. Y’all know it?”

The theme of our volunteering with a nonprofit focused on using food to strengthen communities was to serve social justice. But frankly, social justice meant nothing to me before the trip. Having being born and raised in China, I lived in a middle class family and had no worries about food or surviving my daily life. Since people around were also living in the same life as I do, I did not experience injustices at all. However, this trip allowed me to enter another perspective through which I could see the world we are living in.

After three hours of driving and turning again and again trying to find a parking lot, eleven of us finally got to the hostel we were staying in during the trip.

The next morning, not long after getting settled, we started our duties in the kitchen and started helping with food preparation. After several steps of sanitizing, we were guided by the staff and divided to different stations with works. Unfortunately, I was in the onion station. Chopping unions was fun but irritating at the same time for me. I do love the feeling of chopping them, but I hate that my eyes get watery and my hands get smelly during it. As I was doing my chopping with mixed-feelings, I thought was doing a pretty good job until one of the staff members came to me. “Hey, girl—I am gonna make this easier for you,” he said. He grabbed my knife and started saying “Look, you have to chop it with the top staying on the board.” He did it so fast that I was worried that he would chop his finger off accidentally. “You don’t let the knife control you, you control the knife. Y’all know it?”

As volunteers, what we usually do is just follow the instructions given by the organization and we never think in-depth about what the best solution is to the problem we are having right now. There are many organizations in America to prevent hunger, but how efficient are their actions? We can fund-raise and collect the money to maybe solve the hunger problem today, but what about tomorrow? That is why a feeding program is not enough. There is a reason why the staff there went beyond our initial expectation. The organization not only provides food, but also recruits people with criminal history to work in the kitchen. And they have a training program to help them be prepared for the job. Not only is this a clever decision for future, it is also an economical method. All the individuals the organization hires have a history which led them to prison, but if we train them and let them know that the person who did the crime is not who they really are, we can cause positive change. The cost of building s prison is far more than the cost of training individuals to stay away from prison. I was shocked to hear what he said. Food is the basic need for human-beings. It is such an amazing job they are doing by using food as a channel to educate people and make them live in a better life.

Day 2: 3/5/2013

Lesson Two: Feeding the Soul of the City

This morning, we went on a food delivery. There were three stops we needed to deliver food at and people coming are mostly homeless people living under low income and insecure daily life. Our expectancy was really not that high today since people we are going to meet have not been through the same educational program as the staff members of the agency and their lives do not have a lot of stability.

Our job was to basically serve everyone in the line with the fresh sandwiches, muffins and drinks. Not as chaotic as I thought, everyone was waiting in line and politely, said “thank you” to every one of us. When another team member was handing out the muffins, one person asked if he could have two. While she tried to explain that we only give each person one muffin, the lady next the man asked if we can give her muffin to him. It is really hard to imagine that with this unstable life they are living in, they are still willing to share things with others and so nice and kind even in a poor situation.

Not only were the people there amazing, but the staff members that took us on this trip were also very enthusiastic. One of the staff members himself was telling us all the stories and all the people he met after becoming a staff member. I recall what he said, “I learned a lot from every one of them. I know they have been through a lot and sometimes they step back when meeting people. That is why I always step out to reach them.” His passion affected all of us as he gave out coats, passed out forms for jobs, chatted with people, and ate food with them. It was nice for us to see how they communicate like friends, hug each other and greeting with joy.

Day 3: 3/6/2013

Lesson Three: Cold Weather, but Warm Stories

Today was snowing, so we had to cancel our scheduled activity of going to the nutrition lab. But we still went to prepare food in the morning.

During lunch, one of the staff members sat with us and shared his story with us. He was arrested for dealing drugs when he was eighteen. He spend twenty years in jail and when he finally got out, he did not even know how to use a cell phone. He is glad that he heard about the organization’s training program from a friend and decided to join. It not only provides him with a job but also basic knowledge on how to get by in this fast-changing world. It was just a shock for all of us to hear the penalty that results from making a mistake at such a young age.

Day 4: 3/7/2013

Lesson Four: Education with Food

This morning, we went to an elementary school that the organization serves. We visited their farm first when we got there. Yes, they have a farm in school. It was not a big farm, but students are able to grow different vegetables and fruits on it. There are several sections in the farm, each of which is cared for by a different grade in the school. They have an instructor who teaches them different techniques for growing plants to know which ways are best to do so. They also have family weeks when students bring their parents to school and grow vegetables together. The organic fruits and vegetables they grow in the farm are the main source for the lunches and dinners.

It was really amazing to see how students can be educated both inside and outside the classroom about eating healthy. We visited their cooking lessons and they have a food lab where students can make their own healthy food. Teachers also get them acquainted with different healthy foods. “Strong youths lead to a thriving country” is an old saying in China, and in reality improving youth’s understanding of food can lead to a healthier and maybe more prosperous life in the future.

Day 5: 3/8/2013

Farewell and We Will Be Back!

Today is our last day. After our regular food preparation in the kitchen, we ate our last lunch there. It was a really emotional day for all of us since we made a lot of friendship within the staff.

From this trip, I learned a lot about how people can change rapidly. We cannot judge others base on stereotype. The staff taught me a lot about how trust can be built between people if we show our respect and kindness.

BON in Lynchburg, VA

8 Apr

Check out a student perspective on a Spring  Break Branch Out National trip:

Volunteering at a Free Health Clinic in Rural Virginia

8 Apr

By Daniel Higgins

The Issue and Expectations

            Anyone with access to the media can discern that the United States healthcare system is a major area of contention. Newspapers are littered with opinion pieces aimed at a wide variety of health issues; it’s rare to watch a television news program that does not address some aspect of healthcare failure in this country.

Currently, there are approximately 50 million Americans without health insurance: one in six individuals.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) passed in 2010 represents an attempt to reduce this number to 20 million, less than half of the present total.  Although many support the movement toward universal healthcare (a system the majority of industrialized nations have already adopted), others are skeptical of the changes it will require.  Specifically, they wonder about doctors’ salaries, waiting time for appointments, and ability to maintain long-term physician-patient relationships, among others.

Our trip focused on a narrow but important facet of medicine, the free clinic model.  Besides our goal of assisting staff at a clinic in rural Virginia we wanted to learn about the role of the clinic in its community and the population of patients that benefit from its services.  In one of our pre-trip meetings, the team brainstormed a list of factors that negatively impact the ability to deliver medical care in a rural area.  Here are a few of the big ones that were mentioned:

  • Insurance/cost
  • Lack of primary care physicians
  • Access to transportation
  • Language barriers
  • Low faith in traditional medicine/technology

After all of these ideas were written on a whiteboard, we drew arrows connecting topics that were interrelated.  Soon, a massive web covered the board.  This exercise taught us that the challenges faced by rural providers (such as free health clinics) are complex and have no easy solutions.

Preparing to leave, I had no idea what to expect.  I’d been in large, powerful, multi-million dollar hospitals and urban private practices, but I had never been to a free health clinic and I had not visited rural areas in general very much. I suspected there would be some drop-off in terms of the amount of services provided compared to a hospital, though I wasn’t sure by how much.

Our Trip

            Our team of eleven met on a blustery Saturday afternoon, ready to leave memories of midterms behind and have an adventure in rural Virginia.  We arrived at the clinic after an 80-minute drive in a 15-passenger van we later named “Big Bertha.”  Upon arrival, we were greeted by the Executive Director, who gave us a tour.  We discovered that we were going to stay in a trailer that used to house the clinic before it moved into a larger building.

We spent the rest of the weekend exploring the local area, waiting to being work that Monday.  During our journey, we notices how spread out all of the landmarks were in the town; it took between 30 and 45 minutes to reach each destination.  This theme would become relevant later, as many patients said they had to commute over an hour to get to the clinic.

higginsblog1 Our first day of work, we learned that there were four departments we would be working with:  medical, dental, pharmacy, and administrative.  I was assigned to the medical department first and spent the morning screening patients to determine if they were eligible for care.  Because most patients merely needed to update their information, this process was fairly straightforward.  Volunteers in dental started a chart audit, which consisted of leafing through hundreds of charts to consolidate basic information onto a spreadsheet.  For the rest of the week, our tasks remained largely administrative.  Because the clinic has virtually no electronic system of medical records, every so often the volunteers need to inventory the data on patients receiving the services of each department.  We were able to alleviate some of this burden by completing small “projects” tackling these tasks.

Though paperwork was ubiquitous, we were able to gain some exposure to patients and physicians.  One day, I shadowed the family practitioner and learned to take vital measurements.  Most members of the team also conducted patient interviews, wherein we asked questions related to their experience with the clinic.  The most striking theme we noticed in these interviews was the extreme level of dependence of patients on the clinic. Most patients stated that they would not receive any medical treatment if not for the clinic.  Certainly, they would not be able to receive regular checkups that are useful for managing medications for chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes) or mental disorders (schizophrenia).

higginsblog2After this experience, I feel that I am still a conscientious citizen with regard to the issue of increasing accessibility to healthcare.  This trip was an excellent introduction to this topic, but I would need more training and knowledge to make daily decisions that could forward this cause.  I do plan to attend medical school, and this experience has led me to consider primary care more carefully.  In the interviews, I saw how grateful patients were for the clinic’s existence and I’m sure it would be fulfilling to be a more permanent figure in its functioning.

The greatest change this trip has caused me to experience is that I now understand and think about the wide disparity of wealth in almost all areas of the country.  Driving across the Rappahannock River Bridge, I saw enormous waterfront homes.  On the other bank, there was a vast community of trailers.  I was told that some people cannot even afford meager housing and must live in tents in the woods.  Living in an isolated area of wealth (or at least apparent wealth) at William and Mary, I’d forgotten that the issues faced daily by many people include basic survival needs like medicine and housing.  I will work toward helping to ease the burden of these challenges in the future, and I think this trip was a powerful step in that direction.


GO: Grassroots Organizing to Fight Injustice

8 Apr

By Maia Tinder


               We started off the day meeting with our community partner, a local chapter of a community organizing agency, about canvasing in order to develop goals based on the needs of community members.  We learned that communities in the area do not have very many “political resources,” and that legislators and campaign organizers do not commonly go there looking for votes or trying to listen to their concerns. This organization tries to give them a voice.
                We spent the day canvassing in a middle class neighborhood, where people were not that motivated to get involved. It was a little discouraging. Most of the people were not home, but the people that I did talk to were skeptical. They treated me like I often treat someone at my door: sometimes I don’t answer the door nor do I give the person the time of day. I lost morale throughout the day, expecting each door to be another, “not home” or uninterested person. That was until I came to one woman’s door. She was born in the community, but had lived in Richmond for five years before she returned to care for her mother. I spoke with her for about 15 minutes about the changes she would like to see and how this community is so under-resourced compared to other cities in Virginia. She told me about how she really believed in the power of numbers and how individual voices can really be heard by legislators; that it’s not hopeless. She had called Bill Clinton once when she didn’t like something that he was doing and they called her back and discussed her opinions with her. That gave her a lot of hope and respect for our democratic system. She wanted to help spread the word that the individual voice was valuable. It made me realize that this individual power applies to me as well. I can’t expect every door and every person to be interested in our causes, but my work in recruiting this woman, even if she the only committer person I interacted with for the day, she may end up making a huge difference within the organization and its community.


                We continued canvasing in another, lower-income neighborhood. When we got there, there was a very noticeable difference between the quality of those houses and the quality of houses we had visited thus far. As we knocked on doors, the people yelled through the door “Who is it?!” at every single house. One woman even sent her son upstairs to stick his head out the window and ask me who I was and why I was there. Almost everyone I spoke to mentioned problems with crime, violence, drugs, and gangs, which I did not hear in any other neighborhood. The first door I knocked on, I asked what her biggest concerns in her community were, and she just responded, “This town sucks, baby, there’s nothing anyone can do about it,” and shut the door. The sense of hopelessness was unparalleled in any other community.
                At another house, we asked a woman what issues were most important to her regarding the community. The woman initially answered, “Oh, I don’t know.” But, I had a sense that she had more to say, and I was right. The conversation turned around so much that when we asked her if we could take her contact information to get in touch with her about meetings, she said, “You know I’ll be there, baby!” She spoke to us for about 15 minutes about how she thought minimum wage needs to be raised. For a long time she had been collecting unemployment checks, but now she was working a full time job and was making less money than before. It was almost unaffordable for her to work her job. This is an issue that I had learned about in a Sociology class at William and Mary, but seeing someone who stated this fact from her own experience instead of just having people so distant from the issue—college students and professors who mathematically and statistically figure out that this is an issue or know from reading research—made the issue very real. The conversation showed me a lot about how much I have learned from this experience as well, I had become a very confident canvasser and was open to talking to everyone who answered the door.


             It’s going to be very weird going back to school and “the regular world.” I feel like this is my life now and I don’t want to leave! We have spent all day every day for several days focusing on how we can support this organization through recruiting members by canvassing, and it has made me have a greater appreciation for everything in my life. I always have been a little bit bothered by people who are exorbitant, excessive, and wasteful with their consumption and when the have the money choose to carelessly spend it on useless and unnecessary things. I think that that feeling will be even stronger now, at least when I first get back. I want to help other people realize how little money and material “things” matter to happiness, and how many important things we can use our money for. Even if you have a lot of it, being careful and efficient with your money is a valuable skill.
           My experiences canvassing have been unlike any other volunteer or service I have ever experienced, and I honestly think it is exactly what I was missing. As a pre-med student, I have spent a lot of time in healthcare settings such as hospitals. However, canvassing allows you to visit a person at their home and a snippet of what their lives and days are like instead of seeing them in a very narrow sphere like when they are in a hospital. Visiting individuals in their homes and hearing the concerns that affect their entire lives gives me a much broader picture of the struggle that people are going through in various communities. This will make me see the bigger picture from now on whenever I am working with a patient in the hospital. I will be more aware of the issues that affect their lives. It will also serve to humanize the patient, which is very difficult for many doctors due to the nature of their work, but something I believe to be very important if you are truly going to improve the health of the individual for the long-term. We cannot be afraid to discuss these issues and fight for change in all aspects of peoples’ lives.
             I’ve been fortunate, because when I was younger growing up in Florida, there were very wealthy people in my community and many programs to fund art camps, theater camps, nature camps, and anything else you could imagine. A site leader noted that in larger cities, programs can attract grant money to pay for those that cannot afford them. What is the solution in a smaller town like this? I think this is part of the larger problem, and hopefully all of the people who are concerned about this issue will be able to come together to find a solution along with the organization’s help. The divide between high-income and low-income individuals in this community makes me very sad. The problem is much bigger than any small solution, but raising awareness and everyone taking the time to exit the narrow sphere that they live in and becoming aware of the perspective of others in their own community is one of the most valuable assets a person can have.
              This trip has confirmed for me that I want to be a doctor serving underserved populations and become an active member of my community. I want to stay aware and involved in improving the lives of everyone in the community in which I end up living, as well as the country and the world. I have also realized that staying too focused on a strictly pre-med curriculum can be especially damaging, so I want to keep reading news sources to stay in touch with social problems. I hope to take a greater breadth of social science courses, especially economics and possibly government. Being able to see the big picture and not getting caught up in the tiny scientific facets of a disease is so important and will make me an infinitely better doctor and person.